New York Times Profiles USAID Administrator Shah

The New York Times profiles USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and examines the challenges that come with leading the development agency at this point in time. “A staunch supporter of Mr. Obama’s candidacy, he said he viewed his election as a Kennedy moment – worth trading weekend hikes in Washington State for the Beltway slog of Washington,” the New York Times writes of Shah, who explained his decision to join the government by describing himself as a “chronic complainer when we’re not in power.” Shah said, “I believe that these moments in history, when you have this kind of president, are rare.”

Shah, who the newspaper notes is a physician and “former alumnus of the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation,” is “not shy about his plans [for USAID], saying he seeks to bring better monitoring and analytical rigor to the agency. Some programs, he noted, get financed year after year, even if they are failing,” the New York Times writes. “He wants to implant Gates [Foundation]-style entrepreneurialism, championing ideas that come from beyond its usual circle of contractors. At town-hall meetings, Dr. Shah is equal parts evangelist and wonk, talking about USAID’s future while larding his vocabulary with corporate-speak words like ‘metrics,'” the article reports.

According to the New York Times, USAID’s engagement in so many countries contributes to “many of Dr. Shah’s headaches” because demand is so great. “The agency has nearly 400 Americans in Afghanistan, which has made it difficult to fill jobs in Africa,” the newspaper notes. “Shah himself spends a quarter of his time on Afghanistan, but like other senior officials he plays down expectations. ‘We have to be honest with ourselves about what is the goal of different programs,’ he said.”

The article also looks at Shah’s relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It also includes feedback on Shah’s performance from Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Pamela White, who has worked at USAID for 29 years; Martin Fisher, CEO of the agricultural irrigation nonprofit KickStart; Connie Veillette, director of the Center for Global Development’s program for rethinking foreign aid; and Bread for the World President David Beckmann (Landler, 10/22).

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